Jewish Montessori Preschool aim is independent, happy, socially responsible kids

Gutal Fellig and Rabbi Yokav Fellig in the historic synagogue.

It is almost Tu B’ Shevat or The Holy Day of Trees and at the Jewish Montessori Preschool of Coconut Grove at 3291 Franklin Avenue, the children are engaged in learning about the shade and oxygen that trees provide. The learning center’s high ceilings, marble floors and pine walls provide a calm, natural setting.

The first year of the new academic program uniting Judaic Studies and Montessori-style teaching is already yielding fruit as the content and engaged children begin to make mitzvah trees out of string and colored construction paper.

Parent Michael Hirsh has two daughters at Jewish Montessori and is an outspoken supporter of the school.

“Here you have the best Montessori education and the best Jewish education all under one roof,” said Hirsh. “The secular teachings coupled with Judaic Studies complement each other perfectly and that is what is so unique about this incredible place.”

The Montessori Method has been around for over 100 years and focuses on promoting a child’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional growth. Started by Maria Montessori in 1906 to get children excited about the joy of learning at a young age, Jewish Montessori Preschool integrates Montessori areas of study with Jewish traditions, Hebrew language, group activity and cooperative play.

“We respect the intelligence of the child and are priming their brains, there is no need to dumb it down,” said Certified Montessori Lead Instructor Amrin Kaur.

“Everything in the classroom is built into steps. We teach them an internal experience of order through didactic lessons that build on concepts using a tactile approach. The Judaic Studies led by Director Gutal Fellig gives children that pride of heritage, which comes from belonging to a bigger community. We sing cultural songs together with joy as we work to raise empathetic and spiritually ready children for this world.”

Gutal Fellig and husband Rabbi Yakov Fellig opened the Jewish Montessori Preschool as a natural extension of the Chabad of the Grove, active in Dade County since 1989. Along with Torah classes from preschool to Hebrew School, Chabad of the Grove offers cultural events such as the recent Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s King David Ensemble concert and programs like courses on Jewish Business Ethics Money Matters and Kabbalah Studies. It is also the home of the not-for-profit organization Friendship Circle.

“The marriage of Montessori and Judaic Studies is ideal for teaching comprehensive life skills the children can practice at school and at home,” said Gutal Fellig. “A kosher diet, how to make Challah bread, appropriate manners at meal time and how to live your best life in a humble and grateful way as the Torah teaches. This is all part of the experience.”

As director of the Chabad of South Dade, Rabbi Yakov Fellig is accustomed to hosting international dignitaries and esteemed local leaders at the historic synagogue in Coconut Grove. Often asked to speak at commission meetings and special memorial gatherings for the South Florida community, Rabbi Fellig is soft spoken and approachable with a vast awareness of how to communicate effectively to any audience. In theme with Tu B’ Shevat, the Rabbi offered an applicable tale enchantingly told.

“Two great Rabbis, a father and son, were walking in a beautiful garden and enjoying an incredible conversation on mysticism,” Fellig said. “One of them plucked a leaf from a tree and began twirling it in his hands. The next day, disconnected from the experience, the father asked his son, ‘How much do you think it takes for a leaf to become a leaf? The atmosphere, sun, weather and food, are all the components that cause it to eventually emerge as a leaf.

Do you think it might have been insensitive to pluck it from the branches without realizing what you are doing?’

“Sometimes we are only concerned about the bigger things in life but even the smaller things like a little leaf play a big role in the total ecology of the universe. The same thing applies to human beings. If you have a big problem, we will worry about it; but if not, no big deal. Judaism teaches that the big and small have to be in balance and measuring the big and small is very relative. The children are learning that everything has texture, energy and value; even a tiny seed. It is a higher level of consciousness when the instruction truly resonates with the child.”

Parent Cyril Darmouni says the Jewish Montessori Preschool is especially amazing due to the ratio of four teachers to eight students (true to the Montessori style of individualized instruction).

“You can’t ask for a better environment,” Darmouni said. “The whole purpose is to get the kids to like what they do here and my daughter is so happy to go to school every morning. She is making so much progress in Hebrew and learning so many new things. She will be here at least one more year, maybe two.”

Rabbi Fellig believes teaching children how to be happy, well-adjusted, integrated people with an internal unflappable sense of peace is what it is all about.

“What does freedom mean? Where does a human being have the opportunity to be free in this world? I cannot control what anyone says, but I can control how I am going to react to it. We are always reacting to events; if someone cuts us off in traffic and we yell and get upset we become enslaved to that other person. I can control how I am going to react to outside events. If no one is able to make me upset with their actions then I am totally free; free to think and do freely.

“It is a messianic dream. Are we going to get to the end of the highway? I don’t know. At least I know what highway we are going to be on and we will do the best we can on the journey and hope to God we have health, prosperity and blessings as we do the best we can every day.”

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